Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It's a small world, after all

It was 1964. I was twelve.

It just occurred to me that if I had been the same age then as I am now, I would have been born in 1900. Now that is weird.

We were in New York City for the World's Fair. That's where the future as I know it (which is now) coalesced.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Walt Disney used the fair as a platform to assemble key pieces of what would later become signature attractions at Disneyland, and still later Walt Disney World in Orlando. It's a Small World and the Carousel of Progress were among those contributions. They remain today, essentially unchanged, key attractions at Disney resorts. I still remember the Sherman brothers' sweet upbeat small world tune that played from the beginning to the end of the gentle fifteen minute ride as our little boat drifted through the meandering exhibit. I remember thinking, back then, that it was tame and lame, from my pre-teen boyhood perspective.

As I reflect on this, It's a small world was a remarkably prescient theme back then. That the world might actually be small may have been a popular notion at the time, but I don't think people thought of it as more than a cute expression of the baby boomers' exuberant hope for a better tomorrow. The fact is that our world was indeed small, and it was shrinking much faster than anyone suspected.

Copyright NASA - Apollo 17
Our world continued to get smaller with each passing year. For the first time we saw images of our little blue planet from space, then from the moon. Air travel became mainstream, then ubiquitous. Today there are people who are intercontinental commuters. There is hardly a corner of the planet that is beyond twenty-four routine hours of airline travel. Everest, once Sir Edmund Hilary's alone, nowadays has lines of trekkers passing each other on the way up, and on the way down ("I beg your pardon" "no, you go first" "I'm so sorry was that your foot?" "how much further to the summit?" "was the view worth it?").

And that seems to be the rub.

Another expression that applies here is "too much of a good thing". The days when we became starry-eyed and dreamed of exciting far-flung romantic getaways when Frank Sinatra sang Come Fly with Me, are now barely more than a quaint memory. These days we dread shuffling through endless lineups waiting to be quizzed, frisked, and scanned for facial recognition.

It wasn't that long ago that we were breaking down barriers, turning the Great Wall of China into a tourist attraction, permanently raising the Iron Curtain, tearing down the Berlin Wall, making many border crossings mere memories of a balkanized past. I actually own a piece of the Berlin wall, a very thoughtful gift from Sonja last year.


And then SNAP!

The world got to be just too damned small.

Cultures that coexist in peace when kept sufficiently separate, clash when they are in close proximity.

The days are long gone when we had the luxury of behaving like the conquerors of old in far-off lands, like the Roman legions, the Conquistadors, and victorian imperialists. If we were once able to conquer and exploit third world peoples with impunity, imposing our values and way of life, making off with the resources we covet, we do so now at our peril. Their pain and suffering used to go unnoticed. It used to be irrelevant.

And now? Not so much. The pain of the third world is increasingly our pain. In our too-small world we are all too close for comfort. Countless refugees are flooding our open borders. Terrorism, the time-worn response of the weak to overwhelming force, is rapidly becoming the bane of our existence.

Our immune response to the world-is-too-small virus is now kicking in. Strident voices are calling on us from on high to close our borders, build new walls, slam shut and bolt the doors, raise the drawbridge, drop the portculis, flood the moat, and man the parapets.

This is not the world I thought I'd call home in 2016. There were supposed to be flying cars, sassy robots, food replicating machines, and universal brotherly love. Where's the brotherly love?

The lyrics to the Disney ride seem to carry a darker message in 2016 than they did when the children were singing in 1964.

It's a world of laughter, it's a world of tears
It's a world of hopes, and a world of fears
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all

What can you and I do about it?

It's not much, but it can go a long way. When you get an opportunity to vote, vote. Vote for courage and tolerance. Vote to keep the world open. Vote for unity. Vote to give refugees a chance at a better life. Vote against fear. Vote against bigotry. 

14 comments:

  1. Nice post. It seems we have two choices: First to recoil in fear and take an isolationist stance, build walls. The other is to help alleviate suffering, embrace differences and move forward. It's risky, I suppose, but I think history will be on the side of the latter. There will be bumps, unfortunately, but that's inevitable. I appreciate Canada's leadership in this. Not so much the U.S. or Great Britain at the moment.....

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    1. Thanks Dave.

      As I respond I'm watching President Obama's address to Parliament. His remarks traced a similar path, and he expressed it much better.

      That this post coincided with his remarks is just that, a coincidence.

      I offered (tongue in cheek) to trade you Justin Trudeau if your election goes to that orange-haired fellow, as long as you let us take Obama as a replacement. His remarks today confirm that it would be a fine trade.

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  2. I feel the world angst and keenly feel the suffocation of our current climate of intolerance. Canadians were heading down a slippery slope during our last election cycle. I do fear the outcome of the US election where if Drumpf gets in it is going to be a flying mass of orange headed intolerance which will no doubt set back civil rights and rascism and intolerance will be the soup du jour. i hope that people don't get apathetic and give up, because if they do before its time to vote, it indeed will be a small small world and not in a good way either.

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    1. Dar in many ways these are great times. I think part of the problem is that the average person, though they now live a better life than the average person did back in the sixties, doesn't have the same bright hope for the future. I think Canadians are lucky. We cast off the low-brow fear-trading authoritarian Harper government and opted for the current administration that is brimming with optimism. Our welcome to displaced people from Syria made the front page of the New York times today. That's the way to be.

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  3. Darn right, David: a thoughtful, timely post; and typed out and in the context of these days, those lyrics do bear a darkish tone.

    As an informed, engaged American voter, I am in distress: I keep scanning the horizon for options, for reason amid the revolting, but nothing appears. I am disgusted and embarrassed by what’s happening here. I feel I should apologize to my international friends and acquaintances… I hope you know that most of us aren’t like that. We are decent people who want opportunities and freedom for others as much as we want it for ourselves. I hope that y’all know that. Please, please tell me that you know that.

    I try to be a force for good in this world, to spread goodness as much as possible in my daily life: to my family, my friends, the strangers I meet, and to my awesome Afghan-American co-worker. Twenty years ago he was a refugee to the States: He learned the language; he works his ass off; and now he and his family—immediate and extended—are all US citizens, living their lives happily and raising their families peacefully.

    A few months back, he told me that he and his family and friends were worried because they had no idea to where they could flee if the US decided to do to them (Muslim immigrants) what it did to the Japanese-Americans during WWII... Internment. I told him that would never happen, though I had difficulty believing my own words. I was sick to my stomach. Dammit, that is not what we are!

    (sigh) Strive to be a force for good: It’s all I can do; otherwise, I’m at a loss.

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    1. Ry - I know this is David's post, but I felt compelled to reply on my behalf, as Canadians we all understand your feelings and don't judge the entire American people by the likes of a few misinformed dolts who happen to have the world stage right now. I find it disheartening that someone who is aspiring to be president and hold such an esteemed office would engage in this negative rhetoric filled narrative without any real ideas to fix problems. He wants to make America Great Again - personally I think it is great already, you guys are just going through a rough patch just like the rest of us. Take care my friend and know that you are not judged by the actions of the ignorant.

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    2. Ry no apologies are necessary. The western world is convulsing. We need a win. The trick is to keep our heads up and face the adversity with optimism, courage and intelligence while we work on getting the win.

      If anyone can do it, America can, really. And that is how to make America truly great.

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    3. Dar I responded to Ry before seeing your comment. We're obviously on separate coasts but on the same page

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  4. A great post and follow up comments. I've never listened to the words of that song enough to give it a whole lot of thought but I remember when the Small World attraction opened up at Disneyland. It was a very popular "ride" as it was long enough to rest your feet after walking around all day long.

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    1. Thanks Richard. My sister remembers that the boats were floating swans. The IBM pavillion was a theatre in the shape of a giant white egg. The audience sat in a bleecher that rose up into the egg. It was one of the first times that an audio visual presentation made use of multiple split screens.

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  5. Good post. I'll bet the World's Fair was a sight to behold.

    Ry sums up my feelings of the current US political scene perfectly... "disgusted and embarrassed." There are no good choices on the horizon. No hope for positive change. We need a good strong group of leaders, not just one good leader. It doesn't look like we'll be getting either anytime soon. Scary times indeed.

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    1. The consolation may be that things are rarely quite as bad, or as good, as they seem. In the end I think that Donald Trump is unelectable. He is just too much of a side show buffoon. He is like the class clown or bully who finds himself with a mike and a stage.

      I realize that Mrs. Clinton, while ostensibly not close to being as objectionable as Mr. Trump, nevertheless is schlepping copious amounts of baggage of her own that makes her an unpalatable choice for may thoughtful voters.

      It could be worse, we could be living in Britain, or Europe for that matter (Sorry Sonja).

      Cheer up, there's no call for embarassment. It wasn't that long ago that Toronto has Rob Ford as mayor.

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  6. As much as I hate It's a Small World (too many rides through the tunnel when Katherine was little) your post is right on. Right now the focus is on Brexit and the US presidential runs but lest the rest of us get too smug the forces of intolerance and hate are close to the surface in all western democracies right now. We saw how even a relatively centrist party in Canada hoped to get votes by invoking the spectre of the "others" in the last election cycle - to some degree of success among a segment of the population. Right wing media continues to fan the flames. And one need only look at Facebook to see how attitudes are hardening.

    However - and there is always a however - these attitudes do not develop in isolation. Being part of a small world means there are now critical issues of cultural adaptation and acceptance, assimilation, and integration that need to be dealt with head on (and not in a politically correct way either) by those in authority at every level whether it be political, religious, educational, municipal, etc. So we can do our bit to be welcoming, understanding, and supportive (and vote accordingly) but until our leaders are willing to come to grips with the issues and offer appropriate and nuanced solutions that do not involve mass deportations and building walls but rather setting clear guidelines and expectations for all, we will continue to have a problem that no amount of brotherly love will address.

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    1. David I agree with you completely.

      It takes strong democratic principles to cope effectively with the challenges we are facing. To welcome refugees and immigrants, to respect their religions and cultural traditions, while simultaneously protecting our fundamental values and institutions. To allow Sikhs in public service to wear turbans on the job, to allow muslim women to wear head scarves on the soccer pitch, while insuring that women enjoy equal rights and are free to exercise them, to refuse categorically and vigorously to accomodate cultural and religious practices that trench on the rights and freedoms we hold dear, while ensuring that we deal fairly and impartially, and are seen to deal fairly and impartially, with those who must alter their behaviour to comply with our essential norms.

      This is certainly not an easy task. It is best left to leaders with strong principles and the courage to act openly in plain sight, with their actions lit for all to see in the flood of daylight.

      The Harper government fundamentally failed that test. So far the current government seems to be on the right path.

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